The Chinese government was reportedly collecting the DNA of Uighurs, a mostly-Muslim Chinese ethnic group, under the guise of free medical check-ups between 2016 and 2017. Tahir Imin, a 38-year-old Uighur who now lives in Virginia, recalled to The New York Times that officials drew his blood, “scanned his face, recorded his voice and took his fingerprints” during a “free health check” from the government. Other Uighurs reportedly said officials made it seem like participation in the “Physicals for All” campaign was mandatory. China’s state news agency reportedly said 36 million people took part in the campaign, and U.S. parties have had a hand in the country’s DNA collection program. Scientists affiliated with China’s police reportedly used equipment made from a Massachusetts company called Thermo Fisher for the campaign, and DNA samples from a Yale University geneticist were reportedly used to help Chinese scientists conclude how Uighurs were genetically different from other ethnic groups in the region.
On Wednesday, Thermo Fisher said it would no longer sell any equipment to Xinjiang—the part of China where the free check-ups were taking place. Kenneth Kidd, the Yale geneticist, told the Times he was under the impression that he and a Chinese scientist were working on “collaborative research” when he shared his own DNA samples with the scientist. Dr. Kidd reportedly said he had no idea his samples became part of China’s DNA drive.